Since 2009, there have been ongoing demonstrations by shantytown residents against Governor Amaechi’s plan to tear down 40 waterfront slums in Port Harcourt. Around 200,000 residents live in these slums, making the area the most densely populated part of the city. State security forces have used extreme force in both their evictions and their reactions to the demonstrations. The justification for this use of force is the demolitions are part of the state’s effort at “urban renewal” and the police have argued that the waterfront is the epicenter of urban crime in Rivers State. Protestors have asked, “Do criminals stop being criminals because you destroy their home?” “Won’t making people homeless force them into criminality in order to survive?” While the state is framing its arguments in terms of modernization and public safety, the waterfront tenants are framing theirs in terms of individual human rights. Ultimately, the conflict arises from the singular challenge facing Port Harcourt and all Nigerian cities: overpopulation in a climate of scant resources.

In trying to project what the future of Port Harcourt living may look like, it seems helpful to look to its far larger neighbor Lagos. A few decades ago Lagos had the same population as Port Harcourt has today, 3 million. Port Harcourt’s port, the second busiest in the country, and may in the future compete with that of Lagos. Both cities span across various islands and continually struggle with land erosion into the sea. Their dense populations create issues of housing scarcity and debilitating traffic. Today’s problems in Lagos could very well be those of Port Harcourt tomorrow.

A waterfront resident peddles goods during a traffic jam.